The Truth About Solar Powered Cars

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Solar powered cars are real and they are here now they are powered by electricity using solar energy. Let us talk about what Solar cars are and how they work.

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solar powered cars
Aptera first Mass Produced Solar Powered Car

Although the popularity of electric cars continues to rise, not everyone is on board with this trend. One of the most significant limitations that many seem to think they have is the length of time it takes to charge them and the difficulty of finding a place where they can plug them in to obtain a charge. It may be more difficult to charge your device if you reside in an apartment complex or in the middle of the city. What if, though, you didn’t need to plug your automobile in in order for it to charge? Pre-orders are now being taken for solar-powered automobiles offered by a number of different manufacturers; however, what is the truth behind these automobiles?They claim to produce enough power to meet the requirements, but can they do so at an affordable price?

The automobile industry is still in the early stages of shifting over to electric vehicles entirely, which is expected to take another decade or two at the very least. The pace of adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), sometimes known as all-electric cars, is picking up speed. The global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) increased by 108% from 2020 to 2021, ultimately reaching 6.75 million units in 2021. 71% of them were pure battery electric vehicles rather than hybrids. To put it into perspective, the total number of units sold in 2012 was 125,000. However, there are still obstacles for BEV producers to overcome regarding the attitude of consumers to concerns like a limited driving range and lengthy charging periods.

In this regard, the use of solar electricity could have certain benefits. This topic has been discussed in a number of the electric car videos I have uploaded. Why not simply install photovoltaic cells on your vehicle? Solar canopies are becoming more common at electric vehicle charging stations and parking lots as a result of the dramatic drop in the price of solar panels. They are rather common in the area where I reside. In principle, you wouldn’t even need to plug your vehicle in in the first place if you integrated straight into the car itself as part of the charging system. This looks like a fantastic idea. However, what exactly is the catch?

First, let’s take a step back and investigate when the idea of installing solar panels on automobiles first arose, as well as how successful the idea has been up to this point. William G. Cobb, an employee at General Motors, is credited with beginning the development of solar-powered automobiles in the 1950s. To say that this is an automobile would be a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly looks like one. It was a miniature model automobile about 15 inches in length and powered by 12 selenium PV cells in addition to an electric engine. More like a vehicle for squirrels.

In 1962, a human-sized model was created for the first time. It was a historic model Baker from 1912 that had been transformed by International Rectifier and outfitted with 10,640 individual solar cells as its power source. If we fast forward to the year 1980, a group of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel created a solar automobile that was powered by 400 W of solar cells. Unfortunately, the solar car wasn’t exactly an attractive vehicle. It was the kind of vehicle that only a mother could adore. It had a range of around 50 miles and could reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Solar panels were attached to the hood and roof of the vehicle. It was impossible for it to come out on top in any competitions or get any points for style.

In the years since, the majority of solar powered cars have been developed at colleges for racing and furthering the development of the technology; however, none of them have been deemed practical passenger vehicles.Things like its range and its carrying capacity simply were not present. Even so, in the last few years, a number of companies have started to look into whether or not putting solar panels on cars could lead to a consumer good that could be sold.

Vehicles that are fueled by solar energy have several advantages. They are as quiet as any other battery-powered electric car, produce no pollutants, and need far less maintenance than internal combustion engine automobiles. It may be possible to reduce the number of times the battery needs to be charged by using solar panels mounted on the roof of the vehicle. In principle, there would be no expenses associated with “fueling” the vehicle if it were possible for the vehicle to get its full charge from the sun. The issue that has to be answered is whether or not the solar panels can truly produce enough electricity.

In a nutshell, solar panels are responsible for the generation of energy that is then utilized to charge a battery pack. This battery pack, in turn, provides the power required for the automobile to drive. Even while some of the prototype racing vehicles from colleges that I described get their electricity straight from solar panels and don’t need a battery, the cars that are being brought to market still have a battery pack. Every one of these electric vehicles may, just like any other EV, be connected to an outlet and given a charge.

Because the efficiency of today’s solar cells is still relatively low — typically between 15 and 25 percent for solar panels — doing the math to determine how much electricity can be generated given the amount of space available can be a bit of a challenge. This is true despite the fact that the sun provides an enormous amount of energy that can be harnessed. You may be unable to create enough power to fully charge the batteries if there’s cloudy weather, haze, or the sun isn’t at a high angle.

Now that we have things under control, let’s try to solve the issue by using some numbers. How much space is there on a car’s roof for installing solar panels? Now, I’m not a mathematician, but let’s apply the same train of thought that Engineering Explained did when he attempted to calculate this… with a few tweaks here and there. Take, for example, the top area of a Tesla Model 3, which is around 8.7 m2 in size. Let’s imagine that around sixty percent of that area is devoted to livable roof space. If we covered that entire area with solar panels, in the best case scenario (where we’d make flat earthers happy by using a cross-section of the earth), the energy coming from the sun would be 1.36 kW/m2; however, if we covered that area with solar panels, in the worst case scenario (where we’d make flat earthers happy by using a cross-section of The solar panels have the potential to produce 7.1 kW overall.

Theoretical Power = 8.7 m2 x 60% x 1.36 kW/m2 = 7.1kW

For a 75 kWh battery pack, the solar panels could fully charge the batteries in about 10.5 hours.

Charge Time Theoretical = 75 kWh / 7.1 kW = 10.5 hours

We’ll be driving this fictitious automobile on the surface of a sphere, which means we’ll only receive approximately 340 W/m2 (4 radians per square meter), but it gets much worse than that. I’m not one of those people who believes the planet is flat. Because a large percentage of the irradiance is either reflected back into space or absorbed by the atmosphere, the surface of the automobile would only be touched by around 55% of the total radiation. In this more plausible scenario, the output of a solar cell with an efficiency of 20% would be around 37.4 W/m2.

Actual Irradiance = 340 W x 55% x 20% = 37.4 W/m2

In addition, we need to consider how effective the system is in charging the batteries. Let’s give ourselves some leeway and say it’s 95%. The conclusion: around 185 watts.

8.7 m2 x 60% x 37.4 W/m2 x 95% = 185 Watts

It is estimated that the battery pack of a Tesla Model 3 will need around 405 hours to completely charge.

Charge Time = 75 kWh/ 0.185 kW = 405 hours

It will take around 17 days to completely charge the vehicle. If you drive just sometimes, this won’t be a problem for you, but if you have a daily commute to work, this won’t work at all. The results may differ based on your location, which changes the sun’s angle on the solar panels, the time of year, the weather, and other factors.

You are not going to be completely free from the need to charge through a plug-in source. All of this seems to point to the conclusion that installing solar panels on a vehicle would be a complete waste of time and money. Despite this, the businesses who are beginning to promote this technology are working on a few aspects that my very crude calculations have not taken into account.

Sono Motors, a German startup company, presented their first prototype of an electric vehicle that could be recharged by solar energy in the year 2017. This vehicle was called the Sion. The electric vehicle has 248 solar cells built into the vehicle’s body. These solar cells can increase the driving range by an average of 112 kilometers (about 70 miles) per week, and they can increase it by as much as 245 kilometers (about 152 miles) per week in optimal conditions. It takes roughly 35 minutes for Sion to fill the 54 kWh battery pack to an 80% level of charge while using a fast-charging station to top up the charge. The maximum speed for the vehicle is 140 kilometers per hour (about 87 miles per hour), and it has a driving range of around 305 kilometers.

Pre-orders for the Sion have been made available by Sono Motors. However, the manufacture of the vehicle is not scheduled to begin until 2023, and the price of the vehicle will be €28,500 (about $32,361). The business anticipates fulfilling the first 14,000 bookings throughout the year 2023. In addition to that, they are investigating the possibility of integrating solar panels into huge trucks. For instance, by installing thin-film solar panels onto a truck with a 13-meter trailer, it would be possible to produce 82 kWh per day in peak circumstances in Munich. The top and sides of the vehicle would be fitted with solar cells. When compared to diesel, this might result in a savings of up to 80% of the cost of the energy used by refrigerated trailers.

The market for SUVs is another option. In 2021, Fisker unveiled the Ocean SUV, which had a solar panel integrated onto the top. The SolarSky roof technology developed by the firm has the potential to generate enough energy to power a vehicle for 1,500 to 2000 miles (2,400–3,200 km) a year. They offer five different versions, each of which can go between 250 and 440 miles on a single charge.

solar powered cars
The rise of solar-electric cars

They range from $37,499 all the way up to $68,999 in price. They have just stated that they have over 31,000 reservations, which amounts to nearly $1.7 billion in potential income, and the start of production is not expected to occur until the end of the year 2022. Again, you won’t be able to meet all of your daily driving requirements, but you should be able to make a significant dent in it.

Another business working on solar-powered electric vehicles is called Lightyear, and in 2019, they introduced their model called the Lightyear One. At this point, the possible range created every day begins to take a turn. Their long-range solar-electric vehicle is equipped with a double-curved solar array that is five square meters in size and generates 215 W/m2 of power density. According to the firm, one hour in the sun may generate around 12 kilometers, which is approximately 7 miles, of additional range, and by the end of the day, this can result in an additional 70 kilometers, which is approximately 43 miles. That is, more or less, the typical amount of mileage covered in a single day in the United States.

It is not the effectiveness of the solar panels that is one of the primary reasons for the high range gained every day; rather, it is the efficiency with which the vehicles utilise the energy. It consumes around 83 Wh per kilometer. Contrast that with the energy consumption of the Tesla Model 3, which is around 167 Wh/km. According to the Worldwide Standardized Light Vehicle Test Procedures, it is anticipated that it would have a driving range of up to 725 kilometers (about 450 miles) (WLTP). So until we see those outcomes in the real world, we should take them with a grain of salt. What’s the catch with those really staggering numbers? The asking price for their automobile is around 150,000 euros, which is comparable to 170.321 United States dollars. However, it is anticipated that buyers will be able to purchase it beginning this summer.

Some of the larger automobile manufacturers, like Hyundai and Mercedes, seem to be just adding solar panels to their existing designs, which is the opposite of the amazing mileage and efficiency figures shown before. There will be a limited edition model of the 2022 Hyundai SONATA Hybrid that comes equipped with a solar roof that has an efficiency of 22.8% and will, under ideal circumstances, add an additional two miles per day to the vehicle’s operating range. This sort of emphasizes the difference between slapping solar panels onto an unoptimized automobile design and designing a new solar-powered car from the ground up with efficiency as a primary concern from the beginning of the design process. On the other hand, they begin at a more wallet-friendly price of $35,550 and may be purchased. The 23 Mercedes Vision EQXX is in the same position, but in a somewhat better one because of the additional range. In perfect circumstances, the 117 solar cells that cover its roof will allow it to go an additional 25 kilometers (approximately 15 miles) in a single day.

This takes us to Aptera Motors, a firm that manufactures solar-powered automobiles and is really lighting up the competition in this industry. Here is where the strategy of starting from scratch and thinking of solutions that don’t exist yet really comes into its own. This cutting-edge three-wheeler has a range of up to 1,000 miles on a single charge and was developed with extreme energy efficiency in mind during the design process. Its light weight—it weighs 65% less than the typical electric vehicle—is one of the primary reasons for its incredible range. When you combine that with its efficient motor and aerodynamics, you use only 30% of the energy that conventional EVs and hybrids use. It is not enough to just attach solar panels to a vehicle; rather, the strategy as a whole has to be reexamined.

How far could you go with the 700 watts of power provided by those solar cells? Let’s use the state of Massachusetts as an example, since that’s where I reside. It’s possible that I wouldn’t need to charge an Aptera more than twice a year even if I drove 30 miles a day, taking into account the amount of sunlight available in my area. Depending on the circumstances, it has the potential to extend the car’s range by anywhere from 16 to 40 miles farther. In December of 2020, after a number of delays and setbacks, the firm at last began accepting pre-orders. It is anticipated that manufacturing of Aptera will begin this year, and the company will begin shipping units at a price ranging from $25,900 to $50,700. It has the greatest price-to-range ratio of the complete inventory, but it also has a design that is really different from anything else, so it’s possible that you won’t like it.

The primary drawback of most of these models is that they cannot get all of their power from the sun, but they can reduce the amount of conventional charging required. In addition, there is a problem with the limited space available for solar cells to be fitted into the outside of the vehicle. However, as we saw in the video I made on this technology, the present generation of transparent solar cells has far lower efficiency and power densities than silicon cells do. This means that transparent solar panels might be used for car windows to create electricity.


While the concept of solar-powered automobiles may seem farfetched, recent advances in the development of lightweight batteries and extremely efficient PV cells are bringing this vision closer to reality. The most prominent businesses in the vehicle industry are beginning to join this sector, which means that the day is not far off when their usefulness will reach new heights.


What are some of the drawbacks associated with solar-powered automobiles?

However, there are certain drawbacks, such as the fact that solar electricity may only be collected during the day (and there is less on cloudy days). Solar equipment is very pricey. For cars to be able to run at night on solar energy, expensive batteries are required to store the energy during the day.

solar powered cars
Why are solar cars not a reality yet?

Why is the solar vehicle not utilized more frequently?

The use of photovoltaic (PV) cells for automobiles is not without its restrictions: The power density of a The amount of power that can be generated by a solar array is restricted both by the size of the vehicle and the amount of surface area that can be exposed to sunlight.

Why are solar-powered automobiles not yet ready for prime time?

It is a well-known fact that the limitations of PV technology make it unfeasible for automobiles to be fueled exclusively by solar energy. This limitation makes it an unworkable option. Even with the most efficient solar technology that is currently available, it takes about five to six hours of sun to make enough power to drive about forty to fifty kilometers per day.

Do solar-powered automobiles lose their power at night?

Solar automobiles are powered by solar cells, which allow them to recharge themselves without requiring the driver to pull over. These car batteries can store energy from the sun, so they can work normally even when there isn’t direct sunlight or when it’s nighttime. 

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